The Canadian government has highly disaffected the Indigenous community in Canada through many means. This disaffection has led to a critical loss of culture, which has many side effects within itself. However, it has also caused great suffering in Indigenous communities, particularly in youth. This paper will explicate this trauma in Indigenous youth and the general loss of culture and its side effects. The explication of these issues will show potential for positive reciprocity between Indigenous youth, and Indigenous culture, both of which have been traumatized via colonialism.

Many cultures that Indigenous people hold very dear have been lost to history due to the attempt to assimilate Indigenous people. Sir John A. McDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, once said: “We must vindicate the position of the White man…”, a call to action to put the boot over the heads of the original inhabitants of this continent. The colonizers’ attempt to overshadow Indigenous people took one of the most critical aspects of our culture’s overall well-being. There has been a recent resurgence in Indigenous culture, with the Truth and Reconciliation commitment by our government and the general move away from the discrimination policies by the Canadian administration. However, all this is notwithstanding the tremendous resiliency of Indigenous people. Despite this resurgence, the United Nations estimates that over the next 50 years, Indigenous culture will lose 90% of Indigenous languages. To protect the Indigenous culture and protect Indigenous well-being, there needs to be a plan and strategy to ensure its survival. Indigenous youth are in a tremendous position to enact this paper’s outline.

Indigenous youth are suffering in many ways, way more than any other demographic in Canada. This suffering is all evident, according to Statistics Canada. Higher incarceration rates, lower graduation rates, higher suicide rates, higher rates of poverty (Chapter 4: Indigenous youth in Canada), the list goes on, but the point is made. One could say that this is due to intergenerational trauma, which would not be false. The truth, however, is far more complex, and to do justice to Indigenous people, we have to acknowledge this complexity—the ripple effect, discrimination, and perhaps most importantly, loss of their self-identity. As mentioned earlier in this paper, Indigenous youth have been stripped of their culture by the Canadian government, and unbeknownst to much Indigenous youth, their culture is their self-identity. For Indigenous youth to make better life choices, they need to fill the hole that exists in their self-identity (Methot, 2019). This is critical. 

For a culture to survive, there needs to be effective transmission from one generation to the next. There are three critical elements an Indigenous parent must fulfill to ensure this effective transmission, which are: “establishing a connection to country, instilling a connection to kinship networks and passing on traditional cultural knowledge” (Dockery, 2020). Out of those three, the most important is establishing those kinship connections. When a child can be proud of his family and have good meaningful relationships with his cousins, sisters, brothers etc., they learn their culture with much more profound meaning and respect (Dockery, 2020). With each generation, this transmission will dwindle as there will be fewer fluent Cree speakers. Unless non-Indigenous people recognize the need for culture in Indigenous peoples’ lives, stories will change. The definition of culture, when used in this context, is: “Customary beliefs and values that ethnic, religious and social groups transmit fairly unchanged from generation to generation” (Dockery, 2020). Indigenous culture is more than the aesthetic part; the dancing, the singing etc. Indigenous culture is also the way of life, values and beliefs, all of which were established long before the European settlers arrived on Turtle Island (Dockery, 2020). 

There has been one Nexus for both Indigenous loss of culture and Indigenous suffering throughout the last two centuries, but as we discussed, the two are inextricable. This Nexus is the Canadian government from the racist and simply inhuman policies of John A. McDonald and his administration to the modern-day unproductive Justin Trudeau. There is a distinction between Trudeau and McDonald. It would be irresponsible to say they are the same. While McDonald was a blatant racist, Trudeau has acknowledged this disaffection of Indigenous people. Trudeau, however, has made many promises concerning Indigenous issues and has failed to meet his commitments many times. Thus Indigenous people still suffer under the current 2022 administration. With the loss of culture caused by the Canadian administration, Indigenous people are stuck with this loss of culture and loss of identity.

Mental health is a critical component of humanity’s overall well-being. A good mental health state leads to a better prognosis in life. When a person is healthy mentally, they are better positioned to make more sound, sober judgments. Of course, if the opposite is true and a person is unhealthy mentally, they filter every decision-making process through their mix of heavy emotions. Mental health and self-identity, that is, self-conceptions, self-esteem, and social identities, are also inextricable and “psychological disorder has been attributed to unconscious conflicts within the individual’s personality” (Thoits, 2012). The loss of self-identity Indigenous people suffer has tangible, clinical manifestations of psychological disorder. These disorders cause them to experience this pre-disposed negativity that leads to adverse outcomes. This all ties back to Indigenous culture. An Indigenous person’s culture is their identity, and it has been taken from through various means, all intentional. Therefore, if Indigenous person knows their culture, they know themselves. They can make better life choices if they know themselves and positively affect their prognosis.


In this paper, I have strived to outline two critical things regarding Indigenous well-being. One is that Indigenous youth suffer a considerable loss of self-identity with culture erasing practices enacted by the Canadian government, most notable the residential school system. This loss of identity has real, medically recognized impacts on an individual’s life, decision-making, and overall mental health. Two, Indigenous culture is at risk of being further stricken. Culture needs intergenerational transmission to survive, but if a young Indigenous person is unhealthy due to intergenerational trauma, they are not in an excellent position to actively participate in their culture, therefore reducing this transmission. An Indigenous person’s culture is vital to their well-being, which is not recognized at any level of government. Indigenous people need the necessary resources to pursue the way of life that has been taken. There is no setting in which Indigenous youth can actively practice their culture in the educational system. It is all pre-disposed to positively affect white youth while oppressing Indigenous youth.  Culture needs to be transferred through generations relatively unchanged. With the present labours of Indigenous youth, this transmission is not adequately effective, and there will be further loss of culture. Indigenous culture has been taken away from Indigenous people by the Canadian government through many means, however all with the same intent. To assimilate Indigenous people into the “superior” western way of life. This loss of culture affects everything an Indigenous person does because culture and self-identity cannot be separated. They are one and the same. Everything statistic that is disproportionate to Indigenous people is due to this loss of culture in some form or another. Conversely, if Indigenous culture was significantly revitalized these disproportionate statistics would slowly be eliminated.

If the Canadian government recognized the positive effects of culture and the government allocated resources appropriately, it would be unimaginable the potential it would unleash in Indigenous people.


Burack, Gurr, E., Stubbert, E., & Weva, V. (2019). Personality development among Indigenous youth in Canada: Weaving together universal and community-specific perspectives. New Ideas in Psychology, 53, 67–74.

 Dockery, Alfred Michael. (2020). Inter-generational transmission of Indigenous culture and children’s wellbeing: Evidence from Australia. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 74, 80–93.

Kingston, Lindsey. (2015). The Destruction of Identity: Cultural Genocide and Indigenous peoples. Journal of Human Rights, 14(1), 63–83.

  Statistics Canada. (2021, December 1). Chapter 4: Indigenous youth in Canada. Statistics Canada: Canada’s national statistical agency. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from

Thoits, Peggy A. (2012). Self, Identity, Stress, and Mental Health. In Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (pp. 357–377). Springer Netherlands.